order of operations

I don’t like to hear about musicians’ lives. I don’t like interviews. I don’t like listening to them talk about themselves or their music. Because it’s always so empty in comparison. They do what they do because they’re good at making music, not at talking or even being decent people. Often they’re vain and pretentious and self-serving. Bad senses of humor and a staggering lack of awareness of the world outside their various stages.

So when Stateside said it was going to focus its last segment on a musician, I almost turned the radio off. But it was Monday and there weren’t any of last night’s cable shows I could listen to online, so I kept it on. Just as noise, to keep me awake. And at first, I didn’t listen very closely. “I love to listen to musicians define their own music—” Well, I don’t. “—so tell me, how would you describe yours?” Please don’t. “Well, it’s hard to describe—” Of course it is. Just like everyone else’s, because they’re all just so damn unique you can’t describe them. 

But I started stirring when the interviewer mentioned that this guy’s life had fishtailed. She didn’t say how and she didn’t need to, really, once a couple of his soft-spoken replies (“no, I’m never up there communing with the audience, I’m nervous and scared and just trying to survive till the end of my set”) suggested all it needed to about fame going to a young guy’s head. I want you to understand that it wasn’t schadenfreude that made me pay attention. I don’t give a fig for whatever celebrity sob story is plastered across the tabloids in the checkout line. I started to pay attention because this guy’s sheepish self-deprecation and quiet down-talking of himself began to seem, given this weighty past both he and his interviewer were stepping around, less like a schtick and more like someone who had had a great fall and had to put himself back together again. And that always makes me pay attention.

Then they played part of this song:


And he talked about how he had to be goaded into doing something simpler, something “people could take home,” and I was brought up short by that because—well, to make a long story short, like everyone else on the planet I used to love to sing when I was alone, and then I grew up and ran out of places to be alone, and I thought with kids, when you have them, while they’re young you get a chance to reset, and you can be alone but also be heard, by people who might like it and don’t know enough to judge you yet, so I’ve been gathering songs, songs I can hum and would like to sing, and I’d filed this into that category as soon as I heard this snippet on the radio.

The interviewer asked about bigger audiences, if he’d want them again, if he wanted to leave the area and go big and he said “Yeah, bigger audiences you know, they’re great, but they don’t last.” I was paying very close attention now. The interviewer asked him what he wanted, then, and he said he just wanted everything to be okay—wanted something good to come home to, and to know that what he did before he came home was something he believed in. He also, I noted, said he was 35, so he has had much more time than me to realize what a quaintly unattainable dream that can be for most people.

I know how pedestrian or, potentially, dour “I just want everything to be okay” may sound, but it didn’t in context. And unlike 99% of the musician interviews I’ve heard, this one made me actually want to listen to his music. So I did. And you should, too, in this order:

1.) The Darkest Things

2.) The entirety of the album The Black Path, the wild success of which was what sent him into that spiral

3.) The Darkest Things again

Maybe if I came to know more music this way I’d have less of a problem with lyrics. (An aside: there are a couple straight-up instrumental tracks on The Black Path; of which the one dearest to me is We Held For Nothing, which in its mere 1:04 encompasses a decade and a half of train-chasing car trips caroming over back roads of the Appalachians with my Celtic cassettes taped into my tape player-that-wouldn’t-shut.) Maybe many musicians are a lot more down-to-earth and troubled and focused-on-greater-things than I give them credit for. Or maybe I just don’t believe people have anything worth saying unless they’ve already gone to a dark place and had to come to know themselves well enough to get out of it.

Either way, this guy is fucking great. 


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